Monday, February 13, 2012

Epiphany 6 Sermon: "A Tale of Two Lepers"

+ Epiphany 6 – February 12th, 2012 +
2 Kings 5:1-14; Mark 1:40-45

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

            Today’s readings give us the tale of two lepers. One was a rich man for whom it was always the best of times. The other was a poor beggar, for whom it was always the worst of times. One could travel far and wide to search for a cure (although there was none). The other could only sit outside the town and cry out, “unclean, unclean” to passersby. One was the commander in chief of the Syrian army. The other was an army of one, dishonorably discharged from his community, untouchable. One had no idea where to go for healing (until he was told). And the other knew exactly where to go: “Lord, If you will, you can make me clean.”
            Both, however, were helpless, in need of healing. Both were healed in rather unexpected ways. Naaman by God’s Word, spoken first by a little Hebrew girl, then through his prophet Elisha and finally in the water. That should sound familiar. A Word, a Promise and Water.
            The Leper in Mark 1 was healed by that same Word and a touch from Jesus. Jesus touches the man, says a Word and all is done. When Jesus touches the unclean, something utterly remarkable happens.   The unclean become clean.  It’s that easy for Jesus.
            Yes, this is a tale of two lepers. But it’s also a tale of two miracles. Sure there’s the healing in the Jordan: “Wash yourself 7 times and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”
And there’s the healing of this leper in Mark 1 – “Jesus, moved to compassion reaches out and touches the man, “I will; be clean.”
            Both are remarkably joyous and wondrous miracles, but they are smaller ones. Jesus does them as easily as drawing breath. It’s almost like Jesus can’t help himself. He must heal. Just as He must cast out demons. He must feed the hungry. He must suffer, die and rise again.
            For the larger miracle is this: that the Lord of the world, and of the Law, should bother at all about someone so utterly worthless as a leper, cast out by the Law, that is what’s truly miraculous. And if you get that miracle, then you get the cross. That Jesus would look upon someone so utterly worthless as a you and me, a sinner, an outcast and would save us by dying in our place.
            And so there’s a double danger for us in this miracle. On the one hand to think somehow that this is all Jesus came to do, set up a clinic, put a band-aid on sin and disease, be a good moral teacher and he’s off to the next town. Think of all the money a church could make with healing powers like that! But if that’s all Jesus came to do, then the Gospel of Mark should have ended by chapter 2 or 3.
            Jesus is more than a great teacher, however. He’s the only one in this world who claims to be your Savior and does something about it instead of giving you a rule book to follow. So the Gospel of Mark goes on. Jesus goes on. He must go to Jerusalem. To the trial. To the spit and mockery. To the whip. To the nails. To the thorns. To your death. He goes for Namaan. He goes for the leper. He goes for you.
            Yes, these miracles are signposts along the way to Jerusalem telling who Jesus is and what he comes to do. But if you only know Jesus as the power and miracle man, you don’t really know him at all; he’s no different to you than a vending machine. That’s why he tells the leper: “See that you say nothing to anyone.” It’s not until he’s is hanging dead on the cross that Jesus is truly known as Messiah. And that confession comes from the most unlikely place: a Roman centurion. “Surely this man is the Son of God.”
            And on the other hand, the danger is this: to think that Jesus’ death and resurrection have nothing to do with the needs of the body. As if once the cross is done and Easter is celebrated Jesus no longer cares about those with disease, needs of daily bread, the poor and those who suffer.
For Jesus (and the Church), the two are related. Care for you in body and soul.
            These smaller miracles and the larger miracle are inseparable. Jesus’ teaching, healing, feeding thousands – it’s all pointing to the cross. In fact, the cross and the resurrection are all of those miracles rolled up into one cosmic event. Where do the lame find legs to walk? In the one who walked to Calvary for them. Where do the blind receive their sight? In the one who looked upon his creation with compassion, came down to suffer and die for all that all might see his mercy.
            It’s all in the cross. In Jesus. It was true for Namaan and the leper in Mark 1. Just as it’s true for you. To be touched by Jesus, and to hear His Word.  It means cleansing for a leper.  Forgiveness for a sinner.  Life for the dead.  And for you.
            In a way, if you think about it, Jesus’ miracles are really a glimpse of the Last Day; miracles are Jesus’ day of Resurrection breaking into creation early. That’s what Revelation 21 points to: tears – wiped away. Mourning, crying, pain – blindness, leprosy, cancer – all disease – gone forever. Death shall be no more. “If you will, you can make us clean.” “I will; be clean.”
            Jesus didn’t come to put a band-aid on your sin and death. Jesus came to be our sin, to become the leper in our place, the outcast, the cursed one for each of you.  He came to cover our disease, sin and death with His blood. So He took all disease, sin and death into His own body cursed on the tree, broken, despised, forsaken, crushed to death to be your healing, your life, your salvation. His will for you is to cleanse you from sin.  That’s why He baptized you.  That’s why He absolves you.  That’s why He feeds you His Body and Blood. 
            When Jesus touches the unclean in Baptism, something utterly remarkable happens.   The unclean become clean.  “I will; be clean.” Be clean Jesus says to Miriam today. And to you. Be clean in Jesus’ robe of righteousness. Be clean in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Be clean in the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Be clean in this saving flood.
            What more can you say to that? How could you not say anything? Namaan declared the praises of YHWH: “I know now that there is no God on earth except in Israel.” And neither could the leper help himself. He had to tell someone.
            “Don’t tell anyone,” Jesus said.  Odd, don’t you think?  The man with leprosy thought so too.  Still he told everyone.  Who can blame him?  When Jesus heals your leprosy, it’s hard to keep quiet.  It’s also hard to keep quiet when Jesus forgives your sin.  Jesus didn’t want that man or the people who talked to him to miss the cross. Just like he doesn’t want us to look to him or his miracles without the cross. And a Church that believes she is cleansed from sin can’t keep quiet about it.  The leper couldn’t and neither should you.
            And in that way, you are that little Hebrew girl for all the Naamans in your life: “There is a prophet in Israel.” Here is the forgiveness of sins. Here Jesus’ touch and Word make unclean sinners clean in his death and resurrection, in the font, at the altar, by that same Word.
            And Jesus’ little miracles continue in this way too: feeding the hungry and homeless that come here for food bags, walking the streets of Redeemer’s neighborhoods listening to people’s needs, responding in mercy, inviting your neighbors to church with you, sending cards to shut-ins, visiting the sick and showing mercy to those in need. And in this way, you are Christ to the neighbor. How will you answer your neighbor’s plea for mercy: “If you will, you can make me clean?”
                        We are nothing. Jesus is everything. He must increase. We must decrease.
            He is the Great Physician of body and soul. He is the friend of sinners. Your friend. Just as he was for the leper. Jesus joins him in his uncleanness and rejection. The leper cannot doubt that Jesus is for him. And we join our neighbor in uncleanness and rejection. Christ for us and us for the neighbor.
            For we, who have sin. We who have uncleanness. Jesus has joined you in your sin. He bears it all for you, your disease your daily needs and your death. There is no doubt that Jesus is the one to whom you pray, “If you will, you can make me clean.” He was for the leper. And Jesus is for you too.

            In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment